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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 September 2018

On the move: the curse of the 'demonic plane child'

Travelling is fraught enough without the nerve-frazzling addition of screaming children, but a viral video this week has pushed some fliers to call for families to be restricted to certain sections of aircraft cabins

Some argue that aircraft cabins are unpleasant enough without unruly children thrown into the mix.
Some argue that aircraft cabins are unpleasant enough without unruly children thrown into the mix.

Usually, who you end up sitting near on an aircraft is a case of travel roulette. Sometimes, a long economy flight that you’ve been dreading turns out to be much more pleasant than expected: empty seats and relative peace and quiet.

At other times, what should have been a peaceful flight turns out to be a nightmare. Take the economy class flight I took from Abu Dhabi to Geneva last October. The cabin had lots of empty seats, and I had one by the window towards the front of the cabin with no-one next to me.

Alas, a surprisingly undignified French family was seated on the row of four to my left. The couple had two aggressive, shouty young children, one of whom, the boy, they handed a tablet without headphones, which blared noise just across the aisle. The boy exhibited disruptive behaviour throughout the flight - intermittent loud shouting, punching the back of the seat in front, throwing items and climbing onto the seats of other guests - which was either ignored or only matched with more random shouting from the parents.

At no point was there any apology to me or any of the other passengers for the disturbance. I arrived in Geneva feeling frazzled, and pledged to upgrade to business class next time.

Yet even business class isn’t a safe zone. On a long-haul flight from Boston back to the GCC in 2016, a young girl whose parents were in the centre aisle was seated behind me on the left hand side of the cabin. The screaming started before take-off and continued throughout the flight, accompanied by coughing. Only later when I came down with a terrible case of tonsillitis. However, her parents had simply reclined their seats, put on their headsets and enjoyed the ride.

These memories resurfaced this week as a video of a ‘demonic plane child’ whose loud shouting and uncontrolled behaviour disturbed passengers on an eight-hour flight from Germany to the United States circulated online. Again, the mother seemed to rely on a gadget to entertain her son, only expressing dismay when she was told she could not connect to the Wi-Fi.

Watchers of the video have called for action, including the creation of creation of child-only areas on aircraft, or codes of conduct for parents, as well as other, harsher responses. One commenter said: “The selfishness and insolent uncaring incompetence of parents isn’t showcased as relentlessly anywhere else. In a restaurant you can at least move tables or eat quickly and the owners know they will lose business if they don’t step in. Parents shouldn’t be going anywhere without actual toys - crayons and paper, dolls, plus sweets. A long flight should be a treat - with the time spent reading uninterrupted or watching four films back-to-back.”

I think a mandatory code of conduct, effectively just another box to tick on booking, would be a useful step. One can have nothing against the mere presence of even very young children on flights - after all, sometimes people have no choice but to travel. And even if those children are noisy, a reasonable person can’t hold it against parents who are doing everything they can to comfort their offspsring and minimise the disturbance to others. Some parents exhibit standout skills and bend over backwards to make the process as painless as possible. Such families are a joy to behold.

Yet too often, flying affords travellers an unwelcome front row seat to bad parenting. And that’s a sight none of us wants to witness.

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